Speaking at a recent event hosted by the Brookings Institution, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a stark outlook for the future in a world where “autocracies are making a comeback.”
“History hasn’t ended. We share the planet with authoritarian regimes, and there is no inevitability to their decline. Just as there is no inevitability to our continued existence. Democracies account for a minority of the world’s population, and while we possess, comfortably, more than half of its wealth, our portion is shrinking. We need to assume that in the decades to come we will be sharing the planet with rich and powerful countries who do not share our values.”
Freeland’s language is easily deciphered here: “Democracies,” or those countries whose financial interests have completely co-opted the power of governance for their own benefit, are under threat from “authoritarian regimes,” those countries who have constructed strong state institutions to counter the influence of private capital seeking to exploit and subjugate their populations into debt slavery.
“The past thirty-three years were guided by an idealism that was both high-minded and – for the countries of the trans-Atlantic alliance – supremely comfortable. We were fat and happy. Assured in our belief that we could do good by doing well. Now, with hindsight, it’s easy to mock the hubris and naivete which animated that era. But as we set about building its successor, it’s important to start by remembering how generous and humane our intentions were.”
Freeland gives a rosy assessment of the years following the fall of the Berlin wall and the perceived triumph of capitalism over Soviet communism which saw plummeting life expectancy in Russia, the Gulf War, the 1995 NATO bombing of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the 1999 NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia which killed hundreds of civilians, the Somalia Affair, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan which is now on the verge of a humanitarian disaster, the invasion and occupation of Iraq which resulted in the death of one million Iraqis, the NATO bombing of Libya, the creation and expansion of a global drone strike program, the creation of a global CIA extraordinary rendition and torture program, the exacerbation of climate change by countries in the Global North contributing to migrant crises in the Global South, and worsening global inequality.
In a staggering display of revisionism concerning this series of events, and the omission of which countries had the most agency during them, Freeland stated that “The effort that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall was not punitive, or vengeful, or colonial. The objective wasn’t conquest – it was fellowship.”
Tell that to Africa. The continent has been attempting to rid itself of the US AFRICOM since its inception in 2008 – many argue that the program is simply a form of neocolonialism backed by the United States’ military power.
As it turns out, there was an attendee at Freeland’s event from Africa. A representative from the African Development Bank expressed during the Q&A that he was being told Africa would not be receiving necessary aid from Western countries because it was being rerouted to Ukraine.
“One of the, sort of, profound lessons, I think, of the war in Ukraine is that democracy can only be built by people themselves – for themselves. And a democracy can only be defended by people themselves, if they’re actually prepared to die for their democracy. And I think that’s something Volodymr Zelensky understood from day one – that Ukraine was only going to fight if he stuck around, and Ukrainians saw that he stuck around, and, like, they’re fighting for themselves, they’re doing it themselves, and actually I think that’s why it’s working.”
Besides the obvious implicit suggestion that Africans should be more like Ukrainians, and that Africans could more easily earn the assistance of liberal democracies by dying in large numbers, this statement is profoundly disingenuous. Ukraine has received $20.7 billion in foreign funding over the past eight months, and expects its external financing needs to reach $3.5 billion per month next year. In addition, the Group of Creditors of Ukraine has implemented the suspension of Ukraine’s debt servicing until the end of 2023. In terms of who is dying for Ukrainian democracy, there is also the issue of the growing number of foreign mercenaries in the country.
Highlighted by the exchange between Freeland and the representative from the ADB is the paternalistic attitude that prevails when officials such as Freeland speak to or about citizens of Global South countries. This notion is that if it were not the US or Canada or Europe providing the guiding light, these citizens would naturally come under the influence – since in our belief it is not possible that they possess the ability for true self-determination – of another paternalistic figure in the form of China or Russia. This attitude is yet another disgusting manifestation of the white supremacy that is embedded in our government institutions.
Perhaps Freeland forgot the documented instances of overt racism on the part of Ukrainian border guards in stopping Africans from boarding trains and buses early in this conflict, allowing ethnic Ukrainians to flee first. Or the matter of Canadian sanctions on Russia’s Agricultural Bank and the European sanctions on Russian ships moving grain & fertilizer through certain ports, actions which have negatively impacted African and Middle Eastern countries’ ability to secure food.
In Europe, which is now facing the enormous cost of the radical sanctions regime in the form of reduced energy supply, European Union foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell broke the global situation down in a series of bewildering statements couched in racist and colonialist language:
“Europe is a garden; we have built a garden. Everything works – it’s the best combination of political freedom, economic prosperity and social cohesion that the humankind has been able to build. […] The rest of the world – most of the rest of the world – is a jungle, and the jungle could invade the garden.”
“The gardeners have to go to the jungle. Europeans have to be much more engaged with the rest of the world.”
In another display of this colonialist attitude, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly was recently in South Korea where she stated in reference to Asia: “We believe that this is our neighbourhood,” despite the nearly 6000 kilometers of ocean that separates the west coast of Canada from the eastern tip of Japan.
Freeland, for her part, attempted to walk back her comments on Monday, stating “What is important is to take the lead from our African partners, and to listen to them about what it is specifically that is on their agenda, and what specifically they need.”
Despite the fact that the individual from the ADB expressed quite clearly his concern, reduced fiscal aid to Africa due to the apparent prioritization of the Ukrainian economy, the Deputy PM was evasive regarding the patronizing nature of their exchange.
“If a white western person has offended someone, the first answer is to say, ‘I really didn’t mean to offend you.’ ”
With this clever twist of language, Freeland simply reinforced the white supremacist logic that one can say whatever they wish, and if the other party takes offense, well, that wasn’t the intent. It absolves the speaker of all guilt because the default setting for whiteness is coming from a place of good faith. Any ‘mistakes’ are simply misunderstood, shifting the burden of responsibility to the offended party to provide proof of how the speaker was in the wrong.
Perhaps the most shocking example of this logic came from the apex of NATO leadership this past Thursday, when US President Joe Biden called Pakistan “one of the most dangerous nations in the world” at a Democratic congressional campaign event. The President suggested that Pakistan was a risk due to his apparent belief that the nuclear-armed country lacked “cohesion.”
Despite being in the midst of a national emergency as a result of recent disastrous flooding, numerous members of the Pakistani political class took to Twitter to condemn Biden’s remarks. PTI leader Imran Khan, who has accused the US of organizing a coup against him earlier this year, asked “On what info has Biden reached this unwarranted conclusion on our nuclear capability when, having been PM, I know we have one of the most secure nuclear command & control systems?
“Unlike the US which has been involved in wars across the world, when has Pakistan shown aggression [especially] post-nuclearisation?”
When questioned about Biden’s comments the next day, US Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the President’s remarks were “nothing new.” Indeed, the white supremacy that lies at the heart of NATO is not a recent phenomenon.
Ryan Hillier is a Moncton-based writer and musician.